Isabel Hardman

Why Ed Balls is so confident about benefit wars

Why Ed Balls is so confident about benefit wars
Text settings

The debate over benefit uprating will run and run because both sides think they are winning. George Osborne thinks the public resent generous benefits rises. Liam Byrne and Ed Balls want to call this a 'strivers tax' and think blue collar workers will fall into their arms. Byrne told Coffee House yesterday that Labour will be hurt opposing to the Welfare Uprating Bill.

I understand that the Shadow Cabinet reached its decision after YouGov's polling showing C2DE  voters  - the three lowest socio-economic groups - saying benefits should have been increased in line with inflation. Osborne's Bill would increase welfare by 1pc, behind expected inflation. Some 42 per cent of C2DE respondents said it was wrong, 28 said it was right, 15 per cent proposed no increase at all on benefits. Polling after Ed Balls had confirmed the party's position showed 59 per cent of voters backed Labour's opposition. Hence the smile on Balls' face

I understand that Labour believes that families on working tax credits (also affected by the real-terms freeze) could turn against the Conservatives in key marginal constituencies. In Dan Byles' North Warwickshire constituency, for instance, the MP has a majority of only 54, while there are 6,800 families on working tax credits. Similarly, George Eustice has a majority in his Camborne and Redruth constituency of 66, but there are 7,100 families on working tax credits. A Labour source tells me:

'Osborne, in search of a welfare dividing line, has just cost the careers of dozens of his colleagues because the losers outweigh a Tory majority by a factor of several.'

Hence the enthusiasm on both sides to keep this going: neither believe they have anything to lose by provoking the other.

P.S. Whether Labour is actually right to be quite so happy about its position on benefits is a matter Jonathan will address shortly on Coffee House.

UPDATE: Jonathan has posted on why Labour's confidence is mis-placed: it's worth a read as it shows that the party may hope that those on working benefits will vote for them, but they still don't have the evidence to back that up.